You'd be hard-pressed to find a NASCAR Cup Series organization that is showing more improvement from the 2022 season over the opening eight events of the 2023 season than Front Row Motorsports.
The organization, which flexed its muscle several times during the 2022 season with Michael McDowell in the No. 34 Ford Mustang, is now seeing sustained success with both of its teams this year.
Heading into this weekend's NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway, the race team is riding the momentum of a truly strong four-race stretch. Over that span, the No. 34 car, driven by McDowell, and the No. 38 car, driven by Todd Gilliland, have combined to record three top-10 finishes and astonishingly they have amassed seven top-15 finishes.
The only non-top-15 finish for Front Row Motorsports over the last four events came in a 21st-place effort by McDowell at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March.
This past weekend on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Front Row brigade was at it again.
Gilliland led the way, as the 22-year-old finished eighth at the half-mile dirt track and in the process scored his second top-10 finish in his last three starts. Over the last four races, Gilliland is sporting an average finish of 12.0, and he has rocketed from 31st in the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings after Phoenix Raceway to 23rd after Sunday's Food City Dirt Race.
It's been a solid turnaround for the young third-generation racer, who is in his second season in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he enters a racetrack -- Martinsville Speedway -- where he is very comfortable.
Gilliland scored his first of three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victories at the half-mile paperclip in Virginia, and he feels he has a great chance to keep the momentum going this weekend.
“I think the last four weeks in general have been a big confidence booster," Gilliland said in a weekly Ford availability. "I was kind of joking with my crew chief about how fast my expectations have changed. Like I was actually kind of disappointed after Bristol, because I felt like we were few changes away from contending in the top-five… kind of top-three area. Definitely, overall, really confident – especially going into Martinsville, which is one of my favorite race tracks. I see no reason why we can’t keep this momentum rolling.”
For Gilliland, a big catalyst for his incredible turnaround in performance has been tied to with how quickly he has gelled with his new crew chief Ryan Bergenty.
“Especially on my team, I think it has been really cool to see Ryan Bergenty take charge of our team – set expectations high, set the standard high for our team and guys," Gilliland stated. "It’s been really cool to watch from the beginning of the season which didn’t go so well, seeing guys like, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work’ or whatever to the last four weeks, which have been really, really good for my team. It’s been a lot of the same guys that have beaten down for years, and this Cup series is really tough. It can still happen just as easily this weekend. Just going to enjoy the good times, and it shows that the hard work is paying off.”
Bergenty feels momentum breeds more momentum and the entire FRM team is feeling it over the last few races.
"We're in a great spot as a team right now," Bergenty said. "Everyone has been working day and night getting our cars ready and it's been paying off. The momentum we have built is growing stronger and stronger each week and we have a great car this weekend that will keep that momentum going."
And while Gilliland has come to life over the last four races, McDowell is also starting to showcase similar results that had him landing on people's radars as a potential Playoffs contender a season ago.
McDowell, like Gilliland, has a solid average finish (12.5) over the last four races, and his last three starts have been extremely strong, as McDowell has a sub-10th-place average finish in that span.
The Arizona native says he feels good about his chances heading into Martinsville, as the Front Row Motorsports team, as a whole, put an extra emphasis on improving its on-track product at short tracks in 2023.
"We have put effort into our short track program this year. We have seen the results at tracks like Phoenix, Richmond, and really at Bristol, too, even on the dirt," McDowell explained. "Martinsville is a real tough track, but we've met the challenge this season."
After the eighth race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season, McDowell sat mired 26th in the championship standings while Gilliland trailed right behind in the 27th position.
As it stands after the eighth race of 2023, McDowell sits 17th in the NASCAR Cup Series championship driver standings, and he sits just one point behind Chris Buescher, who sits on the Playoff cut line.
With another solid performance this weekend, McDowell could work his way inside the Playoff cutline, and if Gilliland and the No. 38 team aren't careful -- they could find themselves doing the same in a few weeks.
Photo Credit: Will Bellamy / Racing America